CHRIS WILDER fears the unknown path awaiting Sheffield United and said: “We must not fall off a cliff.”
Wilder’s Blades have sliced out a huge reputation for themselves this campaign, losing just seven of their 28 Premier League games after promotion.
But as they attempt to bundle big-money Manchester United off fifth spot at Aston Villa when the top flight restarts on Wednesday, Wilder is acutely aware of the pitfalls ahead.
The Blades boss said: “Like all managers, we don’t really know where our teams are at — and we don’t really know how the players are going to pick up their games.
“There’s been a lot of speculation, talk and opinion about who has benefitted and who’s not benefited from this pause.
“We are all in the same boat but as I’ve said before we are desperate to finish the season on a high from a momentum point of view now going into next term.
“Yes, it’s already been an outstanding season for us. But we won’t turn it into something better if we fall off the edge of a cliff, we will desperately try not to do that.”
Wilder’s tactics, with his raiding centre-backs, have stunned the elite and saw his side lose just two away league games — against Manchester City and Liverpool — this season.
Now we have the easy part, which is raising the morale of people who can watch the game we’ve all missed.”
They were fifth in the form guide before the coronavirus shutdown, collecting 14 points from seven matches.
Wilder, who led the Blades back into the top flight after a 12-year absence, said: “We want to win every game, whether it’s behind closed doors or in front of full houses.
“This is a brilliant league — and there’s so much professional pride at stake.
“Villa have got maybe the bigger prize to go for in a lot of people’s eyes, because of the dangerous position they are in.
“But our desire will be just as big to go and get the three points. We have loads to play for in the next ten games coming up. I’m very disappointed obviously that the experiences we could have had going into the last few games have been taken away from us — but I totally understand it.
“We have got to do the best we possibly can and now we have the easy part, which is raising the morale of people who can watch the game of football we’ve all missed.”
Sheffield United have Europe in their sights, knowing they would move to within two points of fourth-placed Chelsea should they win at Villa Park.
Fifth might even be good enough for a Champions League spot if Manchester City’s two-year European ban is upheld by CAS.
But shrewd Wilder is playing down the Blades’ Euro dream, even though he is aching to take the club he loves, supports and played for to the Continent’s top table.
And news that club captain Billy Sharp and vice-captain Oliver Norwood have both signed contract extensions this week only added to the anticipation at Bramall Lane.
Former right-back Wilder, 52, said: “We’ve backed up our performances with some fabulous results — and that’s what we need to do from now until the end of the season.
“And if we find ourselves in the position of qualifying for Europe, then that’s great, we will accept the next challenge.
“But there’s an awful lot of football to go and there’s still a load of uncertainty facing every manager, coach and player.
“Nobody knows where they are — and who knows what’s going to happen in the next ten games we’ve got.
“When you look at our run-in, it’s doubly difficult, because every team we face is playing for something.
“I suppose everybody at the start of the season would have thought Villa would have been chasing Europe and that we might be in their position.
“And of course everybody will have their own observations about this game.
“But we will just give it a go — and hopefully everything turns out well.”